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italicissima is dedicated to real Italian language as it appears in contemporary literature. Here you’ll find a monthly post on a novel of literary and linguistic interest and, whenever possible, a language-themed interview with the author. What you won’t find are books written exclusively in standard Italian (i.e., the language of textbooks and classical literature), especially the ones they teach you in school.


Using Italian: A Guide to Contemporary Italian

Using_ItalianAs an ex-instructor of Italian, I often get asked to recommend grammar books for students at all levels of learning. My favorites tend to be those that contain information about authentic Italian language; in other words, the ways in which Italian is really used in speech and in writing.

John Kinder and Vincenzo Savini’s Using Italian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage (Cambridge, 2004) is one of the best examples of this type of text. Besides providing a concise review of Italian grammar, this book presents a fascinating overview of how standard Italian has evolved and interacted with the many dialects of Italy since its adoption as the national language in 1868, as well as analyses of the varieties of Italian and differences in register with respect to region and form (written or spoken).

Some of the more interesting aspects of Using Italian involve the analyses of regional variation in lexical items and the so-called falsi amici (false friends), i.e., Italian words that look similar to English terms but have different meanings (sometimes radically so!). But the most entertaining part of the text is the spellings of animal and other noises.

REGIONAL VARIATION
English Meaning                              North                              Center                                 South

bad luck                                          sfiga                               scalogna, scarogna          jella, iella

chair                                                sedia                              seggiola                             sedia

cheese                                            formaggio                      cacio                                   cacio

melon                                              melone                           poppone                            mellone

nice                                                 carino                             belluccio                            caruccio

FALSE FRIENDS
Falso Amico                                    English Meaning             English Cognate                  Italian Meaning

attico                                              penthouse                      attic                                     soffitta

contento                                         happy                             content                               soddisfatto

lussuria                                          lust                                  luxury                                 lusso

retribuzione                                   remuneration                  retribution                         castigo, punizione

triviale                                            vulgar, obscene              trivial                                 banale, futile

ANIMAL NOISES
Animal                                             Verb                                 Noun                                   Noise

asino (donkey)                               ragliare                           raglio                                  hi-ho; i-o

gallo (rooster)                                cantare                           canto                                  chicchirichì

gatto (cat)                                       miagolare                       miagolìo                            miao

mucca, vacca (cow)                      muggire                          muggito                             muu             

topo (mouse)                                 squittire                          squittìo                              squit-squit

OTHER NOISES
Source                                            Verb                                 Noun                                   Noise

arma da fuoco (firearm)                sparare                          sparo                                  pim, pam

campana (large bell)                     scampanare                   scampanìo                        din don

campanello (small bell)                scampanellare               scampanellìo                    drin, drindrin

orologio (clock, watch)                 ticchettare                     ticchettìo                            tic-tac

telefono (telephone)                      suonare, trillare             suono, trillo                       drin, dring